Cabot’s Young Cooperators(YC) program is an important effort, providing young members with the information and connections to help them become leading participants in the dairy farming community. Occasionally, the program also plays cupid.
It was at the July 2015 YC conference that Sam Whittier, a fifth generation Cabot farmer from Sutton, Massachusetts, met Hale Staebner, the fourth generation at his family’s Blue Slope Dairy Farm in North Franklin, Connecticut.
The two young farmers were among about 100 on a farm tour that was part of the conference. “We were walking near each other and I realized we hadn’t met yet so I introduced myself,” Hale recalls. They talked a little about milk prices and herd size and Hale was impressed, thinking to himself, he continues, “I’d love to talk with her more.” But from the dinner line, they moved on to sit at different tables, even though, Sam says, “I was intrigued by our conversation, too.”
A few months later, Sam—who handles events among other responsibilities at Whittier Farms—sent out a farm event invitation to many Cabot contacts, including Hale. “He was quite the gentleman,” Sam recalls. “He sent a RSVP saying he couldn’t come but asked if we could meet up some other time.” Although their farms are about an hour apart and each works long hours, they managed to get together for coffee and then dinner a few weeks later. Farming and work could have dominated their conversations, but the pair said they were careful not to talk too much shop during their first few months getting to know each other. “We wanted it to be more than a farm connection,” explained Sam. “There’s more to life than work,” Hale agrees.
Despite early signs of promise in their relationship, both trod cautiously. “I made a point of not introducing her family to mine until after the corn harvest,” Hale admits. Honestly, Sam says, “We didn’t think we’d get through the busy summer season but we completely proved ourselves wrong. It’s just way too much fun to hang out together.”
At a fundamental level, the couple shares a love of farming, the outdoors and working closely with their families. “We understand the sacrifices you make, that farming is never a 9-5 job, that these are small family businesses with good days and bad days,” Sam explains. “Both of us are built for this. It’s in our blood. And both of us left the farm to go try different things and came back to the family.”
These days, Sam and Hale manage to see each other about three times a week. In winter, they might savor a prized day off skiing together at Sunday River while in summer, they enjoy kayaking. Sam has even learned to love square dancing, a Staebner family tradition. “I have two left feet,” she says with a chuckle. “But Hale said, ‘Just come to one dance and if you don’t enjoy it, you don’t ever need to come again.’”
Being farmers, Valentine’s Day is just another day when the cows still need to milked, calves fed and the gutters scraped but “Hale’s a true romantic,” Sam says. He’s surprised his sweetheart with flowers and other treats more than a few times. Even though the schedule is looking busy, the couple figures they’ll be able to have dinner together in some fashion, possibly Hale’s favorite meatballs made with beef from one of their two farms. It doesn’t have to be fancy, Sam says. For her part, she loves when Hale makes scrambled eggs with cheddar on top. “He just does them really well,” she says. “It’s simple things like that that keep you going.”
Both Whittier Farm and Blue Slope Dairy Farm produce and sell their own beef, which is likely to star in any home-cooked Valentine’s Day dinner shared by Sam Whittier and Hale Staebner. Hale is fond of meatballs, like the ones in this recipe served over a rich, smooth cheddar-spinach polenta.